In Theaters

What a difference cinematography can make. Thanks to a single production change, a good movie has been elevated to a great one, a film that carries far more meaning and impact than what was conveyed in its original incarnation. Such is the case with a new, limited edition, black-and-white version of the latest offering in the Wolverine films in the wildly popular X-men franchise, “Logan Noir” (trailer), now playing in theaters.

Released in theaters earlier this year in a full-color format and now available for home viewing on DVD, Blu-ray disk and video on demand, “Logan” (web site) is the latest – and last – film in this X-men spinoff series featuring its original protagonist (Hugh Jackman) and his wise though sometimes-challenged mentor (Patrick Stewart). Even though it’s part of an ongoing series, the movie stands alone well enough so that viewers need not have seen previous installments to follow the story in this offering. And now that it’s been released in this special black-and-white version, “Logan Noir” has taken its narrative to a whole new level.

Logan (a.k.a. Wolverine) (Hugh Jackman), one of the original mutant X-men, faces the greatest challenge of his life as a superhero in a special, limited edition, black-and-white version of the latest film in this popular franchise, “Logan Noir,” now playing in theaters. Photo by James Mangold, courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

Set in 2029, the film follows the life of an aging Logan (a.k.a. Wolverine) (Jackman), one of the original mutant X-men, whose steely claws have handily done in more than a few villains. With the mutant population diminished and his glory days behind him, he’s largely retreated from his superhero ways, now spending his days as a limousine operator for a ride service. His health is obviously failing, a condition made worse by his binge drinking and other unhealthy habits. But, despite these circumstances, he still manages to care for his elderly mentor, Prof. Charles Xavier (Stewart), who’s also suffering from his share of health and psychological maladies. Logan hopes to raise enough money from his work to buy a yacht on which he and Charles can sail away into the sunset. But those hopes dim when conditions change that call him back to his old life, something he thought he had left behind for good.

When approached for help by a desperate woman, Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez), and her young daughter, Laura (Dafne Keen), both of whom appear to be on the run from unseen but menacing forces, Logan tries to shrug off their request. But, when circumstances go south, he finds he can’t turn his back on them, especially when Charles advises him that he envisioned the young girl’s appearance. He insists that, as part of a new generation of specially gifted mutants, Laura must be saved from the evildoers pursuing her, making it possible for her talents to grow and flourish. And, when those nefarious forces confront this unlikely trio, they’re forced to flee, hitting the road for a mysterious sanctuary known as Eden.

While traveling north from Texas toward the Canadian border, a number of revelations emerge about Laura’s background and her previously unknown connection to Logan. At the same time, a number of troubling developments occur related to the health of her two protectors. And, all along the way, Logan, Charles and Laura face new challenges from those who would rather not see them succeed.

As the story plays out, viewers witness a number of incredible transformations. Logan, for example, initially allows his cynical, embittered, self-absorbed side to govern his actions, qualities that gradually vanish as he lets his noble self resurface. Laura, meanwhile, evolves from a belligerent, uncontrollable wild child to a more disciplined, compassionate soul who learns when it’s appropriate – and when it’s not – to let her gifts come out. There’s a new sense of maturity that slowly emerges from both of them, a trait that serves them well as they resolve to live out their destinies, recognizing that their higher callings are far more important than fulfilling any personal aspirations.

With his characteristic claws exposed, Logan (a.k.a. Wolverine) (Hugh Jackman), one of the original mutant X-men, prepares to do battle with forces whose unspeakable plans threaten the future of the planet in a special, limited edition, black-and-white version of the latest film in this popular franchise, “Logan Noir,” now playing in theaters. Photo by Ben Rothstein, © 2017 Marvel and © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

While these themes are certainly present in the picture’s originally released full-color version, the noir filmmaking style greatly accentuates them. The stark contrast that the black-and-white treatment makes possible gives the story a significantly heightened sense of drama, an urgency and importance that full color simply can’t capture as effectively. In essence, it takes an entertaining bubble gum action-adventure and effectively elevates it to the level of a serious screen drama.

In my opinion, this is the version of “Logan” that should have originally been released. In addition to the aforementioned attributes, the noir approach makes the landscape shots positively gorgeous (a la Ansel Adams) and adds dimension to the performances of Jackman, Stewart and Keen not previously apparent, taking them beyond stars in a superhero movie and making them actors in a film worthy of note. It also magnifies the epic quality of this particular story within the context of the Wolverine mythology, given that this is the last installment in the series. That’s quite an accomplishment achieved with such a simple change in production. Admittedly, like the originally released version, the film still drags a bit in the middle, and some of the violence borders on being a tad gratuitous, but, these shortcomings aside, “Logan Noir” is truly a film worth seeing, not only for action-adventure fans, but also for cinema lovers of all stripes.

Living out one’s destiny is dramatic enough in itself. But, when the story behind that accomplishment is given the kind of treatment that elevates it to the level of legend, its impact is allowed to come through in all its magnificence. So it is with this special edition of the concluding segment in this cinema series. And, personally, I can’t think of a more fitting and more emotive way of finishing it off.

A full review will appear in the near future by clicking here.

Getting Connected

Ever feel like you were completely on your own, isolated and disconnected from everyone and everything? Yet, interestingly enough, often within a short time after the onset of those feelings, we find ourselves comfortably ensconced in our connections to others.

Movies help to remind us of this in those times of doubt. To learn about some excellent examples that depict our inherent sense of connection, check out “The Ties That Bind Us,” my latest article in New Consciousness Review’s Conscious Cinema series, available on the publication’s web site and in the summer edition of The HAPI Guide, available by clicking here.

The Best of Movies with Meaning – “Florence Foster Jenkins”

Passionately following one’s dreams, no matter what the cost, is a noble endeavor, to be sure. Pursuing what gives us joy is truly an undertaking to which we should all aspire. But what if the pursuit of that goal has the potential for public humiliation – should we continue under such circumstances? What’s more, what if others deliberately shield us from such criticism – are they really doing us any favors, even if they seem to have our best interests at heart? Those are the issues raised and addressed in the bittersweet biopic, “Florence Foster Jenkins” (web site, trailer), available on DVD, Blu-ray disk and video on demand.

Wealthy socialite and arts patron Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) generously supports the cultural scene in 1940s New York, doting over the music club she founded and frequently organizing salon recitals for her wealthy friends. She’s also eager to offer financial assistance to those whom she considers her peers, like famed conductor Arturo Toscanini (John Kavanagh). And, with the aid of her loving husband and onetime aspiring Shakespearean actor, St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), Florence relishes her little soirees. But what gives her the greatest pleasure is performing her own renditions of the pieces she loves. There’s just one problem – she can’t hit a right note to save her life.

Arguably the worst vocalist ever to grace the stage, Florence’s singing would make even the most tone-deaf among us cringe. But, somehow, most everyone overlooks or doesn’t seem to notice the shrill nature of her shrieking, thanks in large part to St. Clair’s efforts to protect his beloved from the ravages of those who would criticize her, such as New York’s fickle newspaper columnists. She’s also fawned over by others like her vocal coach (David Haig), who’ll gladly tell Florence she’s a virtuoso as long as she pays him his pricey lesson fees. And, if anyone dares raise an eyebrow, such as Florence’s new classically trained accompanist, Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg), St. Clair is quick to pounce, putting out the fires before they ever have a chance to smolder.

So why does everyone put up such a façade over Florence’s singing? For starters, as already noted, she’s an exceedingly generous patron, and money speaks volumes with financially strapped artists. Then there’s her unflappable enthusiasm for her art; she’s so passionate about performing that no one is anxious to discourage her, no matter how ear-splitting her screeching may be. But, above all, no one has the heart to deflate the spirits of a dying woman; as a syphilis patient in the last stages (an illness she contracted from her deceased first husband), Florence’s health is fragile and fading fast, so who would be so cruel as to deny someone her passion with the clock quickly winding down?

Perpetually off-key vocalist Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep, left) prepares for her Carnegie Hall debut with her accompanist, Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg, center), and husband, St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant, right), in director Stephen Frears’ latest offering, “Florence Foster Jenkins.” Photo by Nick Wall, courtesy © 2016 by Paramount Pictures.

Still, the question remains, is anyone doing Florence any favor by being so overprotective? Are they really sparing her feelings? What would happen to her if the truth were to ever come out? Those questions get called when Florence takes it upon herself to make a record as a Christmas gift for her music club friends. But what fallout would emerge if someone outside the club got hold of a copy, such as a radio show host? And, if that weren’t problematic enough, while St. Clair is away for a weekend with his mistress (Rebecca Ferguson), Florence books a date for a concert at Carnegie Hall, primarily as a benefit for American servicemen. These developments are bigger than anything St. Clair has previously tried to contain, and the risk of the truth coming out – and its potentially devastating effects – loom larger than ever.

As this film illustrates, honesty is trickier to manage than one might think, despite it generally being considered the best policy. No matter how much we might try to finesse the truth, there are bound to be consequences – perhaps even collateral damage – associated with such efforts. It’s at times like this when we must search our souls to determine what course of action truly is best, regardless of how painful it may be.

If the narrative of this film sounds familiar, it’s because Florence’s biography provided the basis for the plot of the fictional French production “Marguerite,” which came out in limited release several months before this offering in early 2016. There are a number of remarkable similarities between the two films, but there are enough differences to distinguish them as well. A number of elements, such as Florence’s numerous eccentricities, come through here that weren’t present in the film’s fictional counterpart. And, even though off-key vocalizations are a centerpiece of each picture, they’re so effectively done in both films that they never grow tiresome.

The stellar performances of Grant, Helberg and, especially, Streep definitely make this film, elevating its sometimes-unfocused screenplay and giving it more spit and polish than it might have in lesser hands. The main problem with the script is that it occasionally has trouble striking the right balance between comedy and drama, never quite finding the right mix of when it’s acceptable to laugh at Florence and when to feel sorry for her. The film certainly hits the right notes in its lavish period piece production values and its hilarious “musical numbers,” and director Stephen Frears does his best to make it all work, but the pacing and writing never quite even out as effectively as they could. Enjoy this one for the performances but don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t quite live up to expectations overall.

Still, despite some of these shortcomings, the film earned a number of accolades in various awards competitions. Streep came up the big winner, earning a Critics Choice Award for best actress in a comedy, as well as best lead performance nominations at the Oscars and in the Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and BAFTA Awards. Streep’s co-stars also earned their share of honors, with Grant earning acting nominations in the Critics Choice, Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and BAFTA Awards and Helberg receiving a Globe nod in the supporting actor category. The movie itself garnered a Golden Globe nomination as best comedy picture, while the film’s exquisite costuming work picked up Oscar, Critics Choice and BAFTA Award nominations and a BAFTA nod for makeup and hairstyling.

The picture’s bittersweet elements aside, it nevertheless paints a curiously inspiring portrait of what it means to pursue our “art” for its own sake. In her own way, Florence borrowed from that old expression that maintains we should all dance like no one’s looking – or, in her case, singing like no one’s listening. As long as it gives her a sense of enjoyment and fulfillment, more power to her – an example we’d all be wise to follow if we wish to avoid being saddled with regrets we can’t go back to change.

A full review is available by clicking here.

Copyright © 2017, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.